Australia’s Deep Tech Ambitions With Phil Morle, Startup Pioneer and Partner at Main Sequence Ventures

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Getting innovation from lab to market is not an easy feat, and few countries do it well.

Australia’s research output (e.g. #10 in the SJR ranking and Nature Index), for instance, punches way above its commercial applications.

Are there ways to accelerate that transformation?

  • Australia set up Main Sequence Ventures (@mseqvc), one of the world’s largest deep tech funds, with AU$240M (about US$170M).

  • It is backed by the CSIRO (Australia’s federal government agency responsible for scientific research) and private investors, to target that opportunity.

  • They cover domains such as ag-tech, synthetic biology, quantum and space.

In this episode, Phil Morle (@philmorle), partner and long-time pioneer of the country’s startup scene (wikipedia), explains the commonalities he found between entrepreneurs and scientists, how the fund extended its investment domains and helps compress development timelines.

He closes with thoughts on the tough year it has been for Australia with fires, drought and Covid, and how returns and impact now go hand in hand, from responding to new threats, feeding the planet, to delivering healthcare at scale.

Ask questions to Phil on LinkedIn!

For other episodes on foreign deep tech ecosystems, check out India and Japan.

Before Main Sequence Ventures, Phil had three lives:

  • He spent a decade as a theatre director, learning how to create things from scratch.

  • Another decade with startups including as CTO of Kazaa — the then-dominant P2P file-sharing service,

  • And another as the founder of Australia’s first Silicon Valley-style startup incubator, called Pollenizer, where he also advised numerous organizations including the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) on setting up their own incubators.

  • He was then tapped by the CSIRO to set up a fund to support the translation of Australian research into commercial applications, including the output of CSIRO’s 3,500 scientists.

Among the lessons learned:

  • How he got scientists to grow an entrepreneurial mindset.

  • How to look for early proof points for the whole company.

  • How spending too long in the science exclusively sends weak signals into the market.

  • How deal creation is more valuable than mere deal assessment and de-risking.

  • How they designed a plant-based meat company, assembled a team, and got a product to market in 9 months only.

  • How bridge-building between scientific domains, business expertise and geographies is crucial to startup success.

  • How Covid-19 has lit a fire in the innovation ecosystem.

Full transcript